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A Biblical Thought On Death and Dying for Which We Can Be Thankful

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Many of us this Thanksgiving Day are grieving lives lost far too soon or living with the gaping hole and profound silence that remains after a lifetime of togetherness is severed by death. Babies born still, children and teens afflicted by disease, cancer or an incurable infection, those killed in accidents or military service, by their own hands or as a victim of crime, substance abuse, and old age. Regardless of the length of the relationship or the age of the deceased, those who are left behind grapple with questions, emotions, and spiritual issues that are overwhelming.

If you have read blogs I have published in the past you know that I believe that even the shortest life, including those who expire in the womb, have a living legacy due to the way parents-to-be are altered by the awareness of the child growing within the mother’s womb. Whether the parents are excited or horrified by the positive pregnancy test, changes in thought, attitude and actions result and carry forward touching the people the parents interact with in some way forevermore.

When death comes to call we struggle to find the comfort and consolation the Bible speaks of. Men and women well grounded in their faith may be afraid to admit that there are times when knowing that they will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven is little more than a cold comfort. We know it to be true, are thankful for that truth, but it just doesn’t leave us with warm fuzzy feelings.

Maybe that’s the problem . . .

We interpret comfort as warm fuzzy feelings instead of the confident assurance that God’s eternal promises will come to pass . . .

and when those warm fuzzy feelings cannot be found, we believe ourselves to be abandoned without the promised comfort of the Lord.

Death is yet to be swallowed up in victory. It’s one of those finished, but not yet fulfilled, promises of scripture.

Death still stings.

And our comfort, whether we recognize it or not, is the confident assurance of every eternal promise in scripture.

That’s what comfort is—not warm fuzzy feelings.

The bereaved straddle the fence between resisting any explanation for the too soon parting of those they love and embracing the comfort the exact same scriptures provide in anticipation of their own death.

img_3173-1A fellow loss Mom recently shared Acts 13:36 with me. It says that when David had served his purpose (and in at least one translation—when he fulfilled God’s will) for his generation, he fell asleep and was buried (and my least favorite part) saw decay. That verse is immediately followed by one that tells us that Jesus never saw decay, which is, of course, the reason we can be assured that this parting is only temporary for those who are in Christ. Isaiah 57:1 says (I’m paraphrasing again here) that when good men die, no one understands that God is rescuing them from the evil to come.

When I think of those two verses together, knowing that this world is filled with evil that touches us every single day, I have to believe that God does not dilly dally, He does not let the children He loves linger and languish in this world of sin, one moment beyond the point in time when they have served their purpose in their generation. I believe that our final day is preordained so that we are not exposed to the sin of this world and denied the pleasures of Heaven, for one moment longer than required to fulfill God’s chosen purpose for our individual lives.

IMG_6453I’m making a bit of an assumption here but really, is that not consistent with the nature and character of God? Why would the long-suffering God of 2 Peter 3:9, who holds back the second coming of the Lord for the sake of that one final sinner to receive salvation, allow a single one of His children to live in a world tainted by sin one moment beyond the fulfillment of their worldly purpose? Not only does Heaven and all its wonders await the believer but don’t you think God the Father, and Jesus Christ His son, have longed for and lived in anticipation of their first face to face meeting with each of us?

Is it so hard to imagine that possibility?

Scripture tells us that everything created was created for God. We are His treasure. The apple of His eye. He has heard His children cry out in desperation, “Where are you?”, and, “How long, O Lord”, time and time again.  In response, He has drawn near to us and spoken to us, if we have ears to hear. And the Holy Spirit, who resides within, has offered comfort while Christ has interceded countless times from the throne of grace. But we, His children, have never experienced that moment when we’ve looked upon His face and seen Him as He is. We’ve never touch hands—only hearts and minds. How many times have we just wished we could talk to God face to face?

I attended a conference for bereaved parents in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in early October of this year. The conference was awesome and good for me in so many ways. I knew it would be, but the one thing that made me jump through all the hoops required to attend the conference was the opportunity to meet a fellow blogger, a fellow loss Mom and her amazing daughter, whom I had become friends with online through a grief support group. I knew Melanie and I knew Fiona before we ever met face to face. I knew their hearts and thoughts and the way they spend their days and even their nights. I knew of the challenges they face and the pain they bear and the strengths and weaknesses of their faith in God, but I didn’t really feel like I knew them until I met them face to face. Finally, I could hear the sound of their voices, watch a smile bloom or tears fill their eyes, and hug them close. The internet is a blessed substitute for a face to face relationship.

Scripture, prayer and the inhabitance of the Holy Spirit within allow us to develop a relationship with the triune God and come to know His thoughts, ways, character, love, and power. But as thankful as I am for all of that, it all pales in comparison to finally meeting face to face.

I know it sounds as if meeting God is far more exciting for us than it is for Him, but truly, if we were created for His pleasure (as scripture tells us) don’t you think our pleasure brings Him pleasure?

Have you ever bought an extravagant gift for a loved one that they’ve wished for but never really expect to receive? It’s a total pipedream. Pure fantasy. You scrimp and save, purchase it, wrap it and maybe even plan a special way to give the gift and throughout the entire process, your excitement grows and grows. But the greatest enjoyment comes the moment they open it, squeal and jump up and down, or fall to their knees in shock and pleasure when they receive it.

Can you imagine that the God in whose image we were made, might actually feel that same way about that first moment He meets us face to face? That He anticipates seeing your excitement and awestruck pleasure at the sight of Heaven—His gift, His reward—prepared specifically for you? Can you imagine His rumbling laughter as you leap around, hugging Him and the loved ones who have gone before and gathered for your welcome home party? Can you picture it? Can you imagine the joy He feels at finally having you home where you belong?

As Lisa, my Life Group Leader, reminded the women’s class at church Sunday, our individual lives touch innumerable other lives. We may never know the purpose and power of those individual touch points. A brief conversation with a stranger in a grocery store gives hope to a hurting heart. The man who sweeps the floors in your office sees the way you treat others, and unbeknownst to you, it makes a lasting, behavior altering, difference because you modeled your Savior and it’s completely unlike anything he has seen before. How amazing is it to think that all those seemingly insignificant encounters have a God-ordained purpose? They all matter – not a little but a lot! Somehow, the most minor and innocuous of interactions believers have with others are necessary, absolutely necessary (can you grasp that?) for the fulfillment of God’s purposes? When a loved one lingers in a less than comfortable condition you can be sure God only allows it because His child has not yet fulfilled His eternal purpose for his generation. That knowledge doesn’t make watching our loved ones suffer hurt less, but it does remind us how incredibly valuable every life actually is for all eternity. Every moment, every encounter is highly significant.

I am comforted to know, that the God the Amplified Version of the Bible says exercises extraordinary patience toward the lost sinner also does not delay in rescuing His children from the evil of this world. He doesn’t wait to bestow the reward of Heaven or the ultimate joy of that first face to face meeting our hearts long for. God, in the act of forming us in our mother’s wombs, foresaw the moment yet to come in your life and mine, when we will finally fulfill the entirety of our purpose in this generation and numbered our days to coincide with that precise moment.

You will not likely find this bereaved mother oozing warm fuzzy feelings about this truth, but it is a consolation my mind appreciates and clings to, embraces and even finds fantastically awe-inspiring. It is an intellectual comfort to my grief-ravaged heart.

I hope it is for you too.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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How to Know When Your Journey Through Grief is Complete

Several months ago I asked my psychiatrist how I’d know when I had completed the grieving process. My most pressing need in recovery is/was to reconcile my losses and Gracen’s prognosis with my beliefs about God. I defiantly needed the Holy Spirit to make sense of it all within the context of scripture. That process has been impacted by the overwhelmingly raw agony of emotion cursing through my system. Anger, fear, discouragement and defeat cycled and recycled through my heart and mind constantly. There was, there is, no escape from that cycle without processing both my thoughts and feelings.

Frankly, following the death of my daughters everything I saw, heard and thought was filtered through loss. My perspective shifted and words, actions and thoughts were interpreted in a far more literal and somewhat cynical sense in spite of recognizing the good intentions of others. I understood the intention but was frustrated by others inability and/or refusal to see things from my perspective. Others fairly vibrated with the need to fix the unfixable. To justify with some grand overall plan and purpose. To extinguish the palpable pain. To escape the negativity so they were not inadvertently soiled by it. Those individuals probably felt the same frustration with me. 

Unbeknownst to most, inside an intense desire to be understood refused to be appeased or denied. It took root and demanded attention, refusing to be placated and demanding validation. And every bit of it was entwined with my faith in Jesus Christ.

So I set about entangling my seemingly contradictory thoughts and feelings with the truth of scripture. I did my best to ignore the advice of the untested and sought refuge with broken believers who shared my struggle to cling to and reconcile my faith. I withdrew to escape judgment and rebuke and carve out a safe, secure, silent space in which I could wrestle with the complex truths of scripture. And in that place I made peace with the contradictions of what love in action looks like. I meditated on the complexities of God’s promises and plans regarding my earthly existence and eternal purposes. In time, my internal struggle ended. I found answers that satisfied and let go of the unexplainable. I made peace with my losses . . . with Gracen’s prognosis. 

However, just as Jacob walked away from wrestling with the angel limping, I have also paid a high price in the search for understanding and peace. Depression dogs my steps and anxiety chases after me. And I wonder, have I processed grief only to be handicapped by the mental health issues that rode in on the coattails of loss? Will I ever escape them?

When I asked my psychiatrist how I would know when I had completed my journey through grief he responded that I will have healed when I no longer processed everything through the filter of loss. I will no longer analyze every thought, feeling and action in minute detail in regards to death. He told me I had not yet arrived at that place; but I know I’m making progress.

A long time ago, before Bethany and Katie died, I came to the realization that disease had thrust me into a constant grief cycle. As Gracen and Katie’s bodies changed, as hard won abilities were lost to the ravages of disease, I would grieve, rebel, adjust and adapt to new and painful realities. I would strive against, and then for, acceptance of less than palatable changes. 

I am not sure I will ever completely succeed at living life without filtering it through loss. Loss is destined to color my life and future. However, I always come back to Ecclesiastes 7:2,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living should take it to heart.” 

And the living should take it to heart . . . 

The living should take it to heart . . . 

Maybe I’m right where I’m suppose to be.

There are valuable life lessons that are only learned through the crucible death and suffering. That is not so much a negative thing as it is a painful reality. At times I will conquer the fears and sorrow that share space in my heart and mind and at other times I will once again find myself overwhelmed by them. That is the curse of humanity – the cost of the fall of man. For as many times as others have suggested or implied that I should move on I wonder if my Savior is whispering, “Stay. Linger with Me here in this hard place for just awhile longer. Talk to Me. Don’t turn away. There is a gift of great worth awaiting you.”

“Call on me in prayer and I will answer you. I will show you great and mysterious things which you still do not know about.” ~ Jeremiah 33:3 NET Bible

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor], Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:10 AMPC

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Common Thoughts and Feelings of Grieving Parents 

This morning I opened the Facebook app on my iPad and started scrolling through my news feed. A post from a grief site caught my attention so I ducked over to the loss of a child FB page and started scrolling. . . 

And my heart broke all over again.

As I scrolled through the posts I read such raw anguish. . . 

I heard my own thoughts echo back through the words of others.

Despair.
Discouragement.
Defeat.
How did this happen?
How could this have happened?
Why did this happen?
Who am I now?
What am I doing?
Why can’t I get it together?
How do I go on? . . . Do I even want to?

I’m so angry!
I feel numb. . . detached . . . lonely.
I have no friends left.
If I’m not happy others don’t want to be around me.

And so it goes. . . so many pain filled thoughts and feelings.

And I’ve put my emotional armor on.

I read these things and give a knowing intellectual nod to each one . . . 

But I refuse to draw any closer.

I refuse to engage my emotions.

I can’t shoulder their pain along with my own.

Today, 

I have nothing to give.

My arms are so weighted that I cannot reach back for the one who so desperately needs a hand to hold.

I’m still broken.

And yet,

I feel guilty and ashamed that I can’t formulate words of hope, support and encouragement for another hurting parent.

Not today.

The words just won’t come.

Maybe tomorrow. . . 

But what of all those hurting souls that need a word today?

I am so thankful for the many bereaved parents who step up and in on the days I can’t. Those who are there for me and others with understanding, encouragement and sometimes righteous indignation.

I’d never wish another parent into the child loss community, but I am so very thankful that I’m not alone.

And on the days when I am weak – when the well is dry, others are stronger and extend the hand of courage to the weak and the wounded.

I need the Holy Spirit to fill me before I can be poured out once again for another.

We need each other.

How we need each other!

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Grief

 

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Still Gone


“It doesn’t matter how much I heal or how much emotional processing I go through or how much I pray or go to therapy, whatever, he’s still gone.” Said the young man whose older brother died eight years ago. 

I can relate to those words on so many levels. They’re pretty straightforward, but I’ve found myself meditating on them. In some corner of my mind I recognize there is a nuance that is not so straightforward but is profoundly important. 

And here it is hiding within these three words, “. . . he’s still gone.”

“He’s still gone.” 

I have spent the last three years processing my emotions in the aftermath of the collision that killed two of my daughters. Those losses piggybacked onto the loss of my son almost 25 years ago. And then they were interwoven with the knowledge that my 21 year old daughter, my only surviving child, was born with a rare genetic degenerative neuromuscular disease. Believe me when I say that I’ve processed emotions. 

Relentlessly. 

I’ve prayed. Prayers of anger and despair. Questing prayers. Begging entreaties. Oh yes, I’ve prayed.

I’ve even tried trauma therapy and grief counseling.

I’ve tried finding meaning in some global purpose. Painted on a positive outlook. Whatever.

And they’re still gone.

Do we somehow, unconsciously assume that emotional processing, therapy, and prayer will change that unacceptable truth? Do we think it will fill the gaping holes left in our hearts when our children die? Do we think that grieving will make the loss of our loved ones okay in time? 

And maybe that’s why “they’re still gone” echoes so hollowly through my heart and mind. Maybe I am living with the unrealistic expectation that at some point “they’re still gone” won’t hurt anymore. Is that the goal of grieving?

What expectation should I have? What will healing look like? Feel like? Is it even possible? And maybe that’s why his words, “he’s still gone” communicate a straightforward fact but if you really let them sink into your soul they communicate so much more. Resignation, sorrow, despair, and feelings far to deep to articulate. 

He’s still gone.

She’s still gone.

They’re still gone.

And maybe that’s why I’m stuck. Why I can’t move forward or get better – whatever it is that society expects of me.

No matter what I do, my personal reality is that they’re still gone. Until the end of my days they will be missing from me. Maybe there are some wounds that sink so deep into an individual that they can never be healed this side of heaven. And unless I make peace with the immeasurable worth of an eternal future (not just acknowledge it-not just understand it-not just hope for it) and even if I do make peace with eternity, the wounds I have sustained will never fully heal. They will always hurt because they’re still gone. 

Never will I be whole again. 

Never will it stop hurting. 

Never will I be okay with their absence. 

Still gone.

Still gone.

Still gone.

It echoes and echoes and echoes through me. Those words hold an unquantifiable depth of meaning and they leave my heart torn and bleeding.

Still gone.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Grief

 

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What Bereaved Parents and Those Who Care for Them Need to Know

“It gets worse before it gets better.”

Those were the words the pastor offered to a newly bereaved couple whose daughter had died unexpectedly.

And you should know that he is right.

Bereaved parents are stunned when four months, six month, nine months down the road they find their grief remains overwhelmingly raw.

The shock has worn off.

Their hearts have been flayed open and the wound is still bleeding.

It doesn’t help that those outside the loss community expect healing to be happening when the magnitude of the loss is still seeping into the soul.

The depth of loss has not been fully realized when the funeral is over. No, in the weeks and months and years ahead bereaved parents are confronted with the realization that they didn’t just lose their child but that they lost the hope, dreams and expectations they held for that child as well. They lost their child’s future, but they also lost their own future expectations (marriages and grand babies, to name a few) and they grieve for both what their child will never experience and what they themselves will miss out on.

Frequently, bereaved parents squelch their grief as they try to remain strong for their surviving children. They can’t fall apart because they are so desperately needed by those too young to understand or to express their grief in healthy ways. That’s one reason why the average length of time it takes for parents to work through the grief process averages five years or more – the longest bereavement period of any loss known to man.

My daughter’s grief counselor told her that many teens don’t grieve over lost siblings for four or five years. They experience delayed grief which I think results from trying to be strong for their parents.

The entire home is in upheaval. The sense of security that was taken for granted has been exposed for the fallacy that it is. Gone is the naïveté that we can protect those we love from harm. It’s a frightening experience.

It’s truly terrifying.

And parents and siblings are often left dealing with problems that arise in the wake of the death. Financial pressure, legal issues, spiritual, emotional and health problems assault the family. Marriages and family relationships quake in the aftermath.

While the outside world expects healing to begin, bereaved families are often sorting through compounding problems. They are reeling from the fallout and haven’t really begun the healing process.

Grieving parents and the outside world need to know and understand that grieving the loss of a son or daughter – regardless of their age – is the most devastating and destructive loss experience. Both the bereaved and those who care for them need to anticipate and make accommodations for a long and drawn out grieving process, because it definitely gets exponentially worse before it gets better.

For those who care about the bereaved, grieve with those who grieve. Let go of the expected length of bereavement. Don’t reduce grief to a simple bid for sympathy or pity. And be ever aware that for the grief-stricken feeling bad feels bad, but feeling better feels bad too. It’s a psychological hurdle grieving families frequently face. There is a battle raging within the hearts and minds of loss parents. What they know to be true doesn’t “feel” true and they struggle to reconcile the conflicting messages received from the heart and mind. The solution is not as simple as mind over matter.

People often ask me what to say or do for someone who is grieving. So many times I’ve heard others advise just be present and listen. Both those things are helpful but not necessarily healing. In my experience validating feelings is the single most healing thing you can provide the bereaved.

Grief, for a bereaved parent can be likened to a pressure sore, more commonly known as a bedsore. Pressure sores develop when an individual stays in one position for too long. Unlike other wounds, a pressure sore grows deeper instead of spreading wider. They can be deceptively dangerous because they rapidly eat through layers of flesh below the affected skin to the tendons and the bones beneath if not treated promptly. Treatment involves the painful scraping away of the dead tissue to reach the healthy tissue below. Ointments is applied, the wound is packed and covered and daily cleaning is required to prevent the wound from getting deeper.

Likewise, grief gets worse and deeper when exposed to the pressure of society to project a positive outlook or to work through their grief in the timeframe others deem appropriate. Shaming and silencing the bereaved for failing to heal, wallowing in grief, or throwing a pity party deepens the wound by invalidating the lost loved one’s worth. Venting the negative feelings helps to clear away the infection but refusing to validate those feelings is tantamount to leaving the wound exposed to the dirt and debris floating in the air. The wound gets worse and healing takes longer as the grief-stricken seek the understanding of others.

Validation is the antibiotic ointment applied to promote healing. The presence of “safe friends” (those who don’t criticize or try to fix the broken) is the packing and covering which provides a barrier between the open wound and the influences of the outside world. Frequent validation and affirmation keep the emotional wound clean providing an environment that encourages healing. The bad must be flushed out before the good can replace it.

Unfinished grief occurs when we slap a bandaid on without cleaning and disinfecting the wound. The wound may no longer be visible to the outside world but is quietly festering beneath the bandaid that it covers.

For the bereaved, be gentle and patient with yourself. You’ve been deeply wounded and deep wounds heal slowly. As the old song says, “The road is long with many a winding curve.” Grief isn’t supposed to feel good.

It gets worse before it gets better; but it can and does get better as the grieving struggle their way through the intimately painful thoughts and emotions that arise after the death of a loved one. That’s not to say it will never hurt again at some point down the road. Instead it means the bereaved will no longer be consumed by and actively working through their loss.

 
122 Comments

Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Grief

 

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How not to say the wrong thing – LA Times

Everyone has encountered those moments when they desperately want to comfort or encourage another individual only to find themselves at a loss for words or blurting out something that unintentionally hurts. 

Please check out the teaser below and follow the link to read this informative article that might just cure your foot in mouth disease! 

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When Susan had breast cancer , we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

Source: How not to say the wrong thing – LA Times

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2017 in Chronic Illness, Grief

 

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How To Bring Relief To Those Who Grieve | Michele Cushatt

The holidays are hard on the grieving. Gatherings surrounded by intact families, seem to taunt the bereaved with all that’s been lost—all that’s painfully absent in their own lives. Following Thanksgiving and Christmas comes the new year and all the expectation for a fresh start. Rarely do the bereaved feel this way.

The cold, dark months that follow often reflect the hearts of grieving families. Life comes to a screeching halt and also has a weird way of speeding past following the death of a loved one. It feels like you are standing still while the rest of the world rushes by. It doesn’t just “feel” this way; it happens. I remember the first time I really got out and around town following our accident. I was shocked to find a Cracker Barrel, a Chipolte’s and a new Walmart Convenience Store and Gas Station had been built. Life moved forward. I had not.

This blog post by Michele Cushatt, will help those who love the bereaved to minister to the hurting in 2017.

A teaser and a link to the full article can be found below. I hope you will take the time to follow the link and read the article.

“New Year’s Eve is supposed to be a celebration. A butt-kicking “goodbye” to the old year and raucous “hello” to the new one. After the year our family had, we were ready for both. So I prepared the food, pulled out the games and puzzles, and chilled sparkling cider to the delight of my children. By dinner, …”

Source: How To Bring Relief To Those Who Grieve | Michele Cushatt

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2016 in Grief

 

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